Secretariat had an enormous heart. When weighed at his autopsy, it registered 22 lbs., roughly twice the size of an average thoroughbred. It is one factor that helps to explain his speed and endurance on the track, and as a metaphor, his heart provokes my appreciation – to possess that unquenched yearning to triumph over time and space … oh my.
The human heart shrinks with age. Under normal circumstances the rule of thumb for maximum heart rate follows this formula: 220 minus one’s age. At 58, almost 59, that translates into this number for me: 161 beats per minute at maximum exertion. When I turn 60, it drops to 160 and so on all the way to the obvious lights out. So, I walk miles every week. So, I lift weights three or four times a week and eat sensibly. The end comes anyway, but maybe, I negotiate, maybe, I can stay whole and moving … really, moving is what I most want, until those final goodbyes.
In the February, 2011 issue of ESPN magazine I learned of the theory embraced by some evolutionary biologists that we evolved as runners, that our need to run down game over hours of pursuit on the African savannah, as still done by the !XO San tribe, made us into our modern sapien selves. I am not qualified to argue evolutionary theory, but this at least makes sense to that deep stirring I still feel to run through time and space sometimes just to feel all the parts trying to break free of age.
Eric Nesterenko, a right wing for the Chicago Blackhawks for 20+ years, loved the feel of speed on the ice: “You can wheel and dive and turn, you can lay yourself into impossible angles that you never could walking or running. You lay yourself at a 45-degree angle, your elbows virtually touching the ice as you turn. Incredible. It’s Beautiful. You’re breaking the bounds of gravity. I have a feeling this is the innate desire of man…just being in pure motion.”*
Maybe Nesterenko was describing the closest we can come to feeling in our bones and flesh the spiritual realm in our gravity bound, earth bound life. Have you ever moved through air under your own power – up and into it, or hurdling over obstacles, hunched over handlebars, hunched over the back of a horse, running at full speed down a field, punching holes in space? Maybe when we feel (and especially when we look at) our aging bodies, the dream of immortality, to live forever, shows itself to be just a pale and unnecessary substitute for our real need, to give us those moments again when we might stretch out our muscles at speed and believe that this was everything in life that was important.
I once loved basketball with that kind of passion. In the winter I would walk a block to the West Lawn Elementary school, my ball tucked under my arm, shovel in hand, and clear a half court and then play until past darkness. The streetlight at the corner and the reflected light of the mounded snow shone brightly enough so that I could still grab rebounds, dribble out to 15 or 20 feet, narrating an imagined game all the time aloud, not at all cold, then faking and turning and launching into the air, my body released, that’s it, just released, everything aligned, my right hand, ball on the fingertips, flipping, following through, and then the ball, moving in the most beautiful arc in the world, my eyes following in that perfect air and then whoosh, and it all began again.
*New York Times: 12.26.05